Posted by : Posted on : 03-Oct-2020

Solomon Islands High Court receives video conferencing equipment from Australia

It seems timely that I should have most recently written about video conferencing and digitalisation of communications and services in the Solomon Islands in relation to the new normal brought about by the global spread of Covid-19.

A story in todays Island Sun, which I quote, substantiates the need, especially for video conferencing.

The Australian High Commission in Honiara handed over video conference equipment to the High Court yesterday to enable the court to convene remote court hearing.

Chief Justice Sir Albert Palmer said it is pertinent to note and keep uppermost at the back of our minds that covid-19 is not a law and order issue, it is a health crisis.

And so, the Judiciary must be better equipped, to be able to convene court hearings and sittings, while at the same time observing health restrictions, guidelines and requirements.

He thanked the Australian Government for assistance in providing the court with the equipment.

This gift also significant because while it is a small step in digitalising our operation it is a huge leap in overcoming the odds towards maintaining and achieving access to justice for litigants and parties with case in the court of Appeal

It will enable us to overcome what seemed to be insurmountable the difficulties that covid-19, Sir Albert said.

He said one of the challenges brought about by Covid-19 is the impact on world travel and border closures, thus forced the cancellation of the court of Appeal sitting in April this year. Due to sudden border closures by the Government and other countries, it became increasing difficult to have members of the court of Appeal to travel in time for the court hearing from April 20 to May 1, 2020.

Since that time, we have been trying to hold a hearing done on the papers and or by remote hearing but without much success.

The second Court of Appeal hearing that had been scheduled for this year; from the 5- 16 October is again upon us and should be starting Monday next week.

We are again now racing against time to try and hold a hearing during that period, Sir Albert said.

He explained that in countries where Covid-19 has caused lockdowns and restrictions in movements, meetings and gatherings their courts have also adjust, in most cases have gone digital, unless it is absolutely necessary to hold court physically, many courts in Australia and New Zealand for instances, are holding virtual court hearings.

Judges and magistrates in those jurisdictions are convening court from their homes via the internet, through various conference (VC) applications such as Zoom, Whereby, Webex etc, and counsel linking in with their laptops as well to convene a court sitting or hearing.

Therefore, gifting of the video conferencing equipment is special because it means that the court now have the capacity to conduct remote hearing in Honiara, using one of the online applications, such as zoom to enable the Court of Appeal to hear Appeals even though the President and other members of the Court Appeal are not able to come into the country because of border closures and travel restrictions etc.

He also highlighted that the judiciary should be aiming as a matter of priority to have digital platforms also set up in the courts at hotspots area in the country, at Gizo, Auki and Lata, so that in the event of an emergency where there is a first record of the Covid-19 is registered in one of those hotspots areas, the court can remain open to attend to not legal issues and disputes that might arise from the crisis but to be able to continue to maintain its constitutional obligations in delivering justice to the people.

Thank you again, Australia for aiding the Solomon Islands.

Yours sincerely

Frank Short.

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